Having A Hot Time Tonight by Gary Benton
All of us who hunt, fish, backpack or hike, will one day need a fire. Most of the time we just stop, clear an area and start a fire without much thought. While that is all right most of the time, do you know how to really make a fire? Oh, I am not talking about the method you use to ignite the fire, I mean the components needed for a good fire, some of the types of fires, and even heat reflectors. They are pretty simple to make and all serve different needs in the woods.
The first aspect of making a fire, besides the ignition source, is tender, kindling, and fuel. Let’s look at tender first.
Tender should be small, shredded, or finely shaven pieces of material. You can use birch bark (it contains a resinous material that will burn hot), dried grass, wood shavings, pine pitch (has a resinous material in it too), down from birds, charred cotton material, or lint. You want low ignition heat so keep the material you use fluffed up to allow lots of oxygen flow as you ignite it. You can also coat some parts of your tender with Vaseline, Chap Stick, or insect repellent to make it burn hotter once lighted. Once the tender has been ignited, you slowly add the kindling.
Kindling is small pieces of material you have decided to use for your fire. I suggest squaw wood, which are the small dead pieces of wood (limbs if you will) found on most trees at the lower levels. This wood is often found on live trees as well. It is usually dry if found on the lower levels of a large tree. The upper limbs keep the rain or snow off of it. But, you can use small twigs and branches found on the ground. Just make sure any woods you select are dead and dry. This is important for your kindling. Also, remember, you want small pieces not large ones. You want kindling in a variety of sized and thickness. This is so you can gradually increase the size of the wood to increase the size of your fire. If you place a piece of kindling on your tender that is too big, the fire may go out. Slowly increase the wood size. Try to use soft woods for your kindling, if possible. Soft woods burn fast and give off sparks. This unique trait of softwoods will assist your kindling in burning better and hotter.
Fuel is just about anything you can burn. Animal dung, from plant eaters, can be burned, fuels, oils, animal fats, and even most woods. Wet wood should be placed near the fire to at least partially dry out before being added to the fire. In wet weather, stumps, logs, or limbs may be broken open and the inner pieces of wood removed to add to your fire. This inner wood will be at least partially dry. Keep in mind, soft woods will burn fast, give off sparks, and may be an excellent source to start with. Some soft woods are spruce, pine, cedar, or willow.
Now, some hints to make your fire making easier. Pick up dead wood around your site. There is usually more than enough wood on the ground in most areas. I suggest you avoid chopping wood, especially in a survival situation, because it takes too much energy. You should not do any work in a survival situation that is not absolutely necessary. Save your strength. Also, by carrying a small candle you can start a fire very quickly. Just pile your tender around it and you simply light the wick. You can hold a small piece of tender over the candle flame to ignite it, then place the burning tender up against the base of your stacked tender. A fire will usually start, if your tender is dry and dead, within a few seconds. Then, slowly add large and larger pieces of fuel to the flames. Use caution here and do not get in a hurry and place fuel that is too large on the fire, it may go out. You must be patient and allow the fire to grow in size very slowly.
There are many different styles of campfires you can make. Here are just a few. Teepee fire, used when you need a concentrated light source, heat, or coals for cooking with.
Pyramid fire, best for excellent way of drying wood, needed light, and it produces good coals for cooking on.
Log Cabin fire is another good source of light and heat. It also is a very good fire to use when making fire signals or when you need to dry damp wood.
Star fire, is easy to use and it conserves your fuel. It is used usually when you want a small fire.
Long fire, is good for cooking. You first dig a trench, no less than 6 inches wide, and then place two large logs (green wood is the best) on both sides of the trench. You can place you cooking utensils on the logs to do your cooking. Remember to cook on hot coals, not open flame.
“T” fire is a good all around fire. You can place your campfire in the top part of the “T” and your cooking coals on the long part of the “T”. You should not make the long part of the “T” wider than your cooking pot or pan. This is so it can rest on the soil on both sides of the trench.
Key Hole fire is another excellent cooking fire. Your fire is in the whole part of the fire pit, with the coals in the long trench. Make sure you only cook on coals and not flames in the trench. Your pots or pans will rest on the sides of the trench as you cook.
Dakota Hole fire, this fire is a lot of work. You must first dig a hole, approximately 10 to 12 inches deep and 6 to 14 inches wide (this will be the hole where the fire is made). Then, dig another hole 8 to 10 inches from the main hole. Tunnel them together so they are connected. Your “tunnel” hole should be approximately 6 to 8 inches wide. The tunnel hole will allow airflow into the hole and keep the fire burning. It is a good fire for windy conditions or when you do not want to the flames from your fire to be seen.
Just having a fire may not be enough to keep you warm. If you can, build your fire near some large rocks or boulders. The rocks will reflect the heat and help keep you warmer. If a shelter is placed near your fire (no closer than 10 feet), you should construct a heat reflector on the other side of the fire. With a heat reflector you will notice an increase in heat and light while in your shelter. You can also make a reflector from logs. You just stack them on their sides and support them by driving a sharp limb down each side to hold the stacked wood up. Some folks prefer to peel the bark off of the wood used to make a reflector, but that seems to be too much work for me. I am not sure it makes that much difference, compared to the work required to peel the bark.
Also, if the weather is extremely cold, you can make two or three reflectors, at different angles around your fire and sit in the middle. These reflectors will greatly increase the heat generated by your campfire. The key here is to retain (reflect) what heat your fire is producing, not to make a bigger fire! Large fires will consume more fuel and in windy or snowy conditions that may make finding enough wood dangerous. You may also notice the reflectors assist in keeping the smoke out of your face and going upward.
Fires are often taken for granted. We don’t give a second thought to making a fire, piling the wood on, and then forgetting about them. But, in an emergency a properly planned fire is needed. When you only have a limited amount of matches or fuel to start your fire, you must plan ahead. Have all of your tender, kindling, and fuel ready before you attempt to start a fire. In a survival situation, you must do each task as few times as necessary to conserve energy and resources. Think before you act and this is especially important when you make a fire. Decide in advance what you will need to start the fire, the type of fire and the fuels you will use. Then, make your fire as if your life depends on it, because it may.